In our first article we had a brief introduction on the World Baseball Classic and we took a look at Group A. In our second article we discussed Group B and, logically, in our third article we reviewed Group C that will play its games in Phoenix. Group D was subject in our fourth article.
As we mentioned in our fourth article, rosters were to announced on Thursday. Once released, if you look at it, it’s an impressive bunch of players that have committed to the different teams and, despite the controversy about eligibility, Rob Manfred is probably right when he refers to this year’s WBC as “the best tournament ever”.
To follow the tournament you can take a look the WBC website on mlb.com. It’s an MLB website because, as you might know by now, the championship is organised by MLB (with the world baseball confederation’s approval). Pool play will start on March 8 in Group A, Phoenix will host the games of Group C from March 11 to 15.
After that it’s knock-out time in old-fashioned Wild Card style with games in Tokyo and Miami while the semi-finals and final will be played in Florida as well, with the last game on March 21.
So, just two weeks of spectacular baseball. I can assure you that, as nowhere else you will be able to see MLB stars enjoying the opportunity to represent and play for their country.
Let’s get to business here as we will tell you who of our own Diamondbacks have been selected onto the WBC rosters and we will take a special look at those you are not familiar with.
Merrill Kelly (USA), Ketel Marte (Dominican Republic), Alek Thomas (Mexico) and Emmanuel Rivera (Puerto Rico)
Well, we will not have to introduce two guys that are already with the Diamondbacks for quite some years and have easily propelled themselves into two of our most valuable players: Kelly and Marte.
We quoted Merrill Kelly in our article about Group C where he mentioned it was an honour to be asked to represent the team. It will be interesting to see how the US will deploy Merrill Kelly. No pitcher is allowed to throw more than 80 pitches in the WBC, but while Shohei Ohtani apparently has no restriction at all, the guys pitching for Team USA might be deployed in some kind of a Spring Training setting, like the US pitching coach hinted at in a quote we used in our article on roup C.
Ketel Marte more than once mentioned in 2022 that his desire was to represent his home country at the Classic and being without any injuries, the infielder got green light from the team to play for the Dominicana.
The next ones should be very familiar names as well for the Diamondbacks fans: Thomas and Rivera.
Alek Thomas hasn’t made an impact yet in the MLB, but got a good chunk of major league action last year and at times flashlighted his defensive skills in the Diamondbacks’ outfield. One of Arizona’s finest rookies will wear the tricolor of Mexico thanks to his mom’s heritage. Thomas will probably play as the starting center fielder of the US’ south border neighbours.
In all honesty, I am a bit surprised to see Emmanuel Rivera on the squad for Puerto Rico. Having ended last season on the injury list and with the signing of Longoria to form a platoon at 3B with Josh Rojas, I would have expected the player to play Spring Training with the Diamondbacks as his status on the 40-man roster is far from assured. However, Rivera has probably recovered enough from his injury to claim himself “healthy” and the team saw no problem either in giving him the opportunity to join one of the best infields that will play in the WBC. But one of the reasons Rivera will join Puerto Rico is probably due to Carlos Correa opting out of the WBC (due to imminent child birth), which leaves 3B with a vacancy Rivera could take.
Dominic Fletcher, Dominic Miroglio and Mitchell Stumpo (Italy)
Of all three prospects that have committed to Italy, Dominic Fletcher is guaranteed to see most time in action as he is one of just three outfielders selected by Team Italy. Fletcher is #13 on the Diamondbacks’ MLB Pipeline while FanGraphs dropped him off their prospect list in 2022.
Dominic Fletcher enjoyed his first full season in AAA last year and had a fine although not-so-impressive .301/.368/.452 for Reno. Ahead of the Rule 5 draft he was selected onto the 40-man roster to add some more stress on an already full major league outfield in Arizona. His projection is that of a bench bat in the major leagues, but Fletcher will get his first opportunity in the WBC on a major stage to prove he can be more than that.
Dominic Miroglio’s status with the Diamondbacks is a bit hazy. He has been with the Diamondbacks since 2017 and is already 27 years old, but still off the 40-man roster. Last year he hit .257/.342/.481 for Reno and is probably best considered as a depth option on any major league team (or like James Attwood wrote: “Miroglio is the ‘break glass in case of emergency’ catcher for the organization at the moment). Being around for quite some time, it is possible he wins the starting catcher job for Italy.
Of this trio Mitchell Stumpo will probably be the most interesting one to see. Last year he had a so-so year in Reno, pitching 43.1 innings to a 3.53 ERA (1.338 WHIP) with a 51/31 K/BB-ratio. His fastball and stuff is ranked rather well, but his control/command-issues are worrisome. That will eventually decide if he is able to make the step to the big leagues and the WBC will be an interesting test for him.
Italy has just 5 players born in Italy on their roster, a pretty shocking fact for a team that is considered to be one of Europe’s best teams.
Gunnar Groen (Great Britain)
I surely had not detected this kid to be one of the Kingsman.
Groen was born in London, England, so it is hard to get them much more British than that. It might be possible that this alone makes Groen the most clear case to be selected onto Great Britain’s roster, although, surprisingly, on the UK’s roster there are 3 other players that have been born in London as well.
Groen pitched in Britain for a Sussex team until he went to Pepperdine University in 2017. While studying there he continued his baseball activities, which he apparently combined afterwards in a part-time job as social media manager in 2021 and 2022.
Until he got an opportunity in professional baseball with the Diamondbacks.
How long Gunnar Groen will be a Diamondback remains to be seen as he joined the organisation in 2022 out of the Pioneer League of Independent baseball. He pitched 24 innings in relief in the Rookie league, to a 5.63 ERA at 24 years of age. That doesn’t leave much projection, so Jim McLennan will probably have to wait a couple of more years to cheer for a Brit in Arizona in the major leagues.
Let’s hope he will get the opportunity to take the field in a game in Phoenix so Arizona can cheer for one of their players.
Jacob Steinmetz (Israel), Eric Mendez Matos (The Netherlands) and Boris Večerka (Czech Republic)
I do not forgive myself for missing out on Jacob Steinmetz in my Group D preview where I mentioned Israel. In my Random D-Back article on Josh Whitesell we wrote about Steinmetz, being him the first Orthodox Jew to have ever been drafted by a major league team.
And, to quote from the article we wrote, New York born Steinmetz once said in an interview that he “keeps the Sabbath and eats only Kosher food”, but does “play on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays”. However, “he rather walks to games during the Sabbath instead of taking transportation”. Well, if that doesn’t qualify Steinmetz to play for Israel, than what would?
It remains to be seen if and how much Steinmetz will throw for Israel, because his 7.88 ERA in 24.0 innings in the Rookie leagues is nothing to write home (or Israel) about, although Steinmetz is still just 19 years old.
Visalia’s Eric Mendez is born on Aruba, which makes him eligible to play for The Netherlands, as that is currently the only sports team the Dutch Carribbean island can play for. A 2018 signee at 18 years of age, Eric Mendez is Rule 5 eligible, but hasn’t passed Class A yet. Last year he pitched 65.2 innings of relief on a disastrous Visalia Rawhide team. His 3.97 wasn’t “that” bad, although his 1.40 WHIP and 6.34 FIP leaves food for thought. I guess he will see very little action in this WBC.
Brno (Czechia) born Boris Večerka is one of the latest international signings the Diamondbacks have realised and therefore hasn’t played a game yet in the organisation.
The pitcher debuted with 16 years of age in the Czech’ SuperLiga and pitched for 3 seasons there. Not with a great deal of success, but in a showcase last year in the USA he apparently flashed quite some potential, so he is a bit of a project. Expect him to play in the Arizona Rookie league in 2023 and despite his age he might pitch an inning in this WBC.
Endrys Briceno (Venezuela) and Will Sherriff (Australia)
Apparently there is a new Sherriff in town, although this one is from Perth, Australia. He is not really in town though and even completely absent as Will Sherriff was signed in 2021 by the Diamondbacks but ever since has been on the restricted list, probably due to the severe COVID-restrictions that were in place in Australia and prevented him from travelling to the US.
Back then it was a spectacular rollercoaster ride for William as he went in 12 months from a high school team all the way to the ABL, pitching for Perth Heat and signing for the Diamondbacks. This season, 20 years of age, he is still pitching in Australia. And will he go the American desert? Absolutely, since he signed a 7-year contract with the Diamondbacks. I had no idea you could even sign a 7-year contract as an international signee.
Endrys Briceño is another player who has never made an appearance until now for a team in the Diamondbacks organisation. He is actually a bit of a cheat to appear in this list as he was signed last October 2022 to a minor league contract.
The Venezuelan is already 31-years old and is obviously a depth option in AAA or perhaps AA. He pitched for the Tigers until the 2019 season, but never got out of A+. The past two seasons he did rather well in the Atlantic League, in independent baseball, where he showed strike-out potential, which got him a contract in Arizona. This winter he pitched in the Puerto Rican winter league as well.